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Popular Science: Judging people by their dustbins

Perhaps everyone has some experience with shopping. Just like shopping carts differ, so does the content of the dustbins. Although Czechia occupies top places in waste sorting at present, lots of things must still be improved in waste generation. The knowledge of the population’s differing patterns of behaviour may provide a vital help in this sphere. Researchers from the Department of demography and geodemography Kristýna Rybová, Boris Burcin and Tomáš Kučera, in cooperation with another three scientific centres in Czechia, focused on the research into socio-demographic factors and their influence on waste generation.

The European Union has set the objective of reducing the number of common landfills and phasing out landfilling for recyclable waste by 2025. Since one can find waste containers in virtually every, even the smallest, municipality, it is no wonder that researchers chose just municipalities as examined units for the research into socio-demographic regularities. Do your neighbours, grandparents or elementary school classmates sort waste? If not, demographers have an explanation. According to them, just socio-demographic factors have a crucial impact on the behaviour of households to their surroundings, all the more so in the countries undergoing an intensive demographic change. Czechia is one of them.

The amount of the costs associated with waste disposal is influenced both by the amount of the generated waste and its structure. In order to sort the waste in an even more efficient way than at present, one necessarily has to know the factors with an impact on its quantity and structure. The management should efficiently target them. Similar studies have already been conducted in many European countries and in the USA, but in Czechia this has been a unique study. The research has an innovative approach not only due to its concentration on Czechia, but also by its having taken into account the indicators of the population’s income level (purchasing power) and the type of heating households use.

Source: Hana Bednářová

Foreign research has mostly focused on five variables – the household size, age, gender, education and the size of the settlement. Multiple-member households on average generate less waste per capita than single-person households, having thus a positive influence on the falling quantity of the generated waste. Age is the second most frequently observed variable. According to some studies, the elderly generate less solid fuel, which is probably due to their frugal way of life. However, the factor of age itself without further observed indicators only has a weak influence on the quantity of the generated waste or it was not proven. With regard to the influence of gender, the studies also do not speak unequivocally; according to some authors, the influence was not evidenced, while others argue that there was a confirmation of the positive correlation between the quantity of the generated waste and the proportion of women. This may be due to the higher care for one’s appearance, acquisition of products through catalogue shopping and home delivery services, typical of women.  With regard to education, the people with elementary education on average generate more waste than those with higher education. By contrast, if there is a more educated population, there is a bigger generation of waste. In fact, these are most often large towns and municipalities. While some studies say that this is due to the higher living standard of the people with higher education, other authors have not proven this hypothesis.

The quantity of the generated waste also has a positive correlation with the income level, while the jobless rate has the opposite influence. Due to it, the purchasing power falls and the consumption by the unemployed decreases, too. When employment according to branches was examined in a greater detail, this proved a smaller waste generation in agricultural areas. This was due to the local people having a better access to composting and probably also to the food directly from its producers. On account of this, there is no need of one-use packaging. The amount of the generated waste is also influenced by the type of heating, but here, too, the studies differ. Thanks to the burning of a part of the waste, the total quantity of waste diminishes. On the other hand, this increases the quantity of the residual waste from the solid fuel boilers in the form of ash.

In all, the authors from the Faculty of Science examined 12 indicators in 5445 municipalities of Czechia and using the least square regression analysis, they created a model with eight indicators. In  Czechia’s municipalities, the average amount of generated waste is 276 kg per capita annually. The authors cite as significant factors which increase the quantity of the generated waste the proportion of the persons with secondary and university education and the population’s purchasing power; by contrast, the indicators of the average size of a household, the proportion of the heating with solid fuel boilers, the proportion of men and persons employed in agriculture suggest lower waste generation.

However, the authors (demographers) consider the household size the vital socio-demographic variable. As said above, more populous households generate on average less waste per capita than those with a smaller number of members. Why is it so? In short, a household must always buy some goods, irrespective of its size. If the number of household members increases by one, the total annual volume of the generated waste diminishes by 80 kg per capita. Given the demographic development, when the household size decreases, while the number of single-person households grows, the overall quantity of the generated waste is likely to grow in the future, too.

Mere socio-demographic factors cannot explain all the differences in waste generation among Czech municipalities. Nevertheless, the end of the article also discusses the influence of other (not only socio-demographic) factors on the quantity of generated waste. These are primarily the factors from the spheres of values (in particular the relationship to the environment) and psychology (such as social pressure on waste sorting).


Rybová, K. – Slavík, J. – Burcin, B. – Soukopová, J. – Kučera, T. – Černíková, A. (2018): Socio-demographic determinants of municipal waste generation: case study of the Czech Republic. Journal of Material Cycles and Waste Management, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10163-018-0734-5

Hana Bednářová

Published: Aug 19, 2019 07:05 AM

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